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Cora Staunton: Meath have confirmed they are the superpower of ladies’ football

“This game, and their season, was living proof of that old cliché that defence wins championships”
Kelsey Nesbitt of Meath celebrates with the Brendan Martin Cup after the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Kelsey Nesbitt of Meath celebrates with the Brendan Martin Cup after the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Cora StauntonIndependent.ie

Win one All-Ireland, and people will say you’re a good team. But to enter the realm of great, you need the second.

That’s been in the minds of these Meath players all season: a desire to show last year’s win was no fluke, that they truly are the superpower of ladies’ football. And now we know for sure.

This game, and their season, was living proof of that old cliché that defence wins championships. For me, the system Eamonn Murray has built goes back to when Donegal came to prominence in the men’s game in 2012: it’s a lot of bodies behind the ball, and they leave one or two players inside in the forward line – a Stacey Grimes or Emma Duggan or Niamh O’Sullivan.

The rest filter back, they don’t even watch where the ball is coming – they’re focused on getting back into their system of play around the ’45, trying to turn it over. Once they do that, they get runners on the ball and break as quickly as they can.

You have to be very fit to play this system, but when you’ve runners like Emma Troy, Aoibheann Leahy, Aoibhín Cleary, Orlagh Lally, Vikki Wall and Emma Duggan – powerful athletes who get up and down the field quickly – it’s a lethal formula.

Kerry found that out on Sunday. They got steamrolled by Meath’s counter-attacking machine once it was working to full capacity, with all three goals coming off turnovers.

Kerry had got off to the dream start, going up 1-2 to 0-0, but that wasn’t really due to what they were doing as much as Meath’s nerves. Monica McGuirk was unsettled early doors and a couple of poor kick-outs allowed Kerry to take command. But once Meath settled in, they never looked back. They were three up at half-time and were comfortable, with the goals killing off any life that was left in Kerry.

Meath were composed, professional in what they did, and the Kerry forwards had no way to break it down. Time after time, they ran into Meath walls and there were numerous turnovers, particularly in the second half. The Meath half-back line was key.

Emma Troy, Aoibheann Leahy and Aoibhín Cleary were all excellent. I thought Cleary was the Player of the Match – she, Emma Troy and Niamh O’Sullivan were excellent all day, driving Meath on at every opportunity.

Every time they ran at Kerry, they troubled them and it could have been a more lopsided score. Meath had lots of wides, while Emma Duggan had a quiet day from play in attack. But she still had a massive influence, turning over a lot and being the general around the midfield area.

We hear a lot about Meath’s big names – Duggan and Vikki Wall, who both had good performances – but what showed up for me was Meath’s all-round quality. Niamh O’Sullivan came up with 1-2, and I was really impressed by the entire back six.

Orla Byrne was excellent when she came on, helping the half-back line to stifle Kerry attacks. It was just a pity the play was stopped so often, with Maggie Farrelly very whistle-happy on the day.

This was a final that didn’t flow like other years, with so many frees around the middle third. That put a huge dampener on the game and it was a huge talking point after, which is never a good thing. If you’re trying to promote the game, with a big crowd there and large TV audience, then that isn’t what you want to see.

Either way, it didn’t affect the outcome. By now Meath are so well-rehearsed for these big days, and it showed. It’s their fifth final in a row between intermediate and senior and the same panel has been there in that time, their system now refined to a tee.

They haven’t conceded more than 1-11 in any championship game this year and Eamonn and his backroom team have done a marvellous job – taking them from intermediate champions in 2020 to back-to-back senior All-Irelands. It’s a truly amazing feat.

The question now is whether they can maintain it. Orlagh Lally and Vikki Wall are heading down to Oz, so you’d imagine that’s those two gone for next season unless they don’t stay more than one year.

Murray also said Emma Troy, who was in contention for Player of the Match, is travelling next year. Aoibheann Leahy picked up what looked a very bad knee injury and the hope is it’s not an ACL. If it is, that could be another one gone.

From where I’m standing, stuff like that might be the only thing to topple them. But even if they don’t go on and win a third, what this side has already achieved is extraordinary. I thought Dublin brought the game to a new level – and they did – but Meath, with their physicality, power and strength, have matched that and upped it again.

Dublin, Cork, Donegal, Mayo, Armagh and Galway now have to lift their game to that level if they want to knock them off their perch.

They are the benchmark – and it’s a truly brilliant one.


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